The Brother MFC-J1205w ($130) is a basic multifunction printer that performs very well at most tasks. As is common in this price range, this printer lacks a duplexer for making two-sided prints and copies, and does not offer an automatic document feeder for copying and scanning multipage documents.
The MFC-J1205w performed well in many of our tests, and the tradeoff for this bargain unit is that photo printing speeds are likely to disappoint, even though image quality is high.
This multifunction has a USB port and offers Wi-Fi connectivity. It uses four ink cartridges: The standard black, cyan, magenta, and yellow. The ink cartridges offer a generous yield of 750 pages each. The four ink cartridges are easy to install in the cartridge bay, which is to the right of the paper tray, on the front panel. To get automatic ordering of ink cartridges when the printer is running low, the company offers the Brother Refresh program.
Brother MFC-J1205w review: Design
To connect via USB, you route the cable inside the chassis to a port located under the scanner lid. This route takes roughly four-and-a-half inches off your cable's reach to your computer.
The body measures 17.1 (w) x 14.1 (d) x 6.3 inches (h), a size that is somewhat average. Extending the 50-sheet output tray and catch increases the depth to 18.1 inches. The output tray sits on top of the 150-sheet input paper drawer. To print onto 4-by-6-inch photo paper, you will need to flip up a tongue on the bottom of the drawer, in addition to sliding in the guides at the side of the drawer.
Weighing 14.3 pounds, the MFC-J1205w is nearly double the weight of the 7.5-pound HP DeskJet 2755e. Nonetheless, it's still light enough for one person to easily transport if you need to.
On the top of the unit, the control panel sits to the left of the scanner lid. There are five dedicated buttons: paper size, wireless on/off, power/stop, monochrome copy/scan, and color copy/scan. There is no LCD. In addition to lights beside three of the buttons, there is an error indicator light and a low-ink light. You will have to interpret the status indicated by some combinations of these lights. In one case, the power button light and an error light flashed in unison. Going to the printed setup guide, I found it difficult to locate these explanations. Unfortunately, the online FAQ & troubleshooting page didn't make it easy to search by light combination—instead it offered a list of 12 categories of errors for me to search through.
Brother MFC-J1205w review: Print speed
The MFC-J1205w printed a five-page text document in 24.5 seconds (or, 12.2 ppm), which was significantly faster than the average of 33.8 seconds (or, 8.9 ppm). Printing of mixed text and color graphics was also quicker than average. Our six-page PDF printed in 1 minute and 53 seconds (or, 3.2 ppm). This was faster than the average of two minutes and 12 seconds (or, 2.7 ppm). By comparison, the $85 HP DeskJet 2755e took just over 3 minutes (or, 2 ppm) to print the same document.
Photo printing was very slow. To make an 8-by-10-inch glossy print, the MFC-J1205w took 8 minutes and 16 seconds. This was almost twice as long as the average time of 4 minutes and 19 seconds. However, the HP DeskJet 2755e was similarly slow, taking 7 minutes and 8 seconds to make an 8-by-10-inch photo print.
Snapshot printing was no more impressive. The Brother took 3 minutes and 43 seconds to make a 4-by-6-inch photo print with a border, at highest-quality settings. To make a borderless print in Windows 10, you have to use the Brother iPrint&Scan software. Printing a borderless 4-by-6-inch glossy took nearly 4 minutes—nearly twice as long as the average of 2 minutes and 9 seconds. By comparison, the HP DeskJet 2755e was faster than the average, taking 1 minute and 44 seconds to print a 4-by-6-inch glossy.
Brother MFC-J1205w review: Copy and scan speed
The MFC-J1205w made a color copy in 28.1 seconds, which is exactly the average for comparable models. By comparison, the HP 2755e was slightly slower, making a color copy in 32.4 seconds.
This Brother is among the fastest models at making black-and-white copies. On average, the MFC-J1205w produced a monochrome copy in just 10.8 seconds, significantly faster than the average of 15.9 seconds. The HP DeskJet 2755e made black-and-white copies at half the speed of the Brother, taking 25.1 seconds.
The Brother was similarly impressive at scanning. It quickly captured a high-resolution 600 dpi color JPEG scan of an 8-by-10 photo, doing so in just 37.5 seconds—almost half the average time of 1 minute and 6 seconds. The HP 2755e, by contrast, was significantly slower, taking 1 minute and 36 seconds to perform the same scan.
Making a 300 dpi monochrome scan to PDF format took the MFC-J1205w just 9.1 seconds, beating the average of 11.7 seconds, and far outpacing the HP DeskJet 2755e, which took 19.4 seconds.
Brother MFC-J1205w review: Print quality
Text prints looked attractive. Letterforms were sufficiently dark and looked sharp. Edges looked slightly crisper than those printed by the HP DeskJet 2755e.
Graphics printed with a good amount of detail and accurate colors. Compared to graphics printed by the HP 2755e, the Brother's graphics had slightly smoother textures and better fine detail. However, in the Brother's prints, some faces looked too bright and thus lost contour. But text in our test PDF printed sharply (something the HP DeskJet reproduced less sharply). Similarly, text in graphics areas of the PDF looked sharper in the Brother's prints.
Glossy photos looked attractive, with accurate colors and fine details. Unlike some other models, the Brother does not hype yellow and red shades, which gives a warmer look to photo prints.
The Brother also makes good-quality copies, accurately reproducing text and graphics. Scan quality was also high. As in its graphics prints, this Brother showed a tendency in scans of faces to bump up the exposure. Whereas this led to a loss of some mid-tone transitions in prints on plain paper, in photo scans it prevented harsh shadows on faces in the mid-day sun from looking unattractively dark. By contrast, the HP DeskJet 2755e scanned the same mid-day photo with darker shadows on faces.
Dark background shadows in another one of our test photo scans, however, came out too dark, losing some fine details.
Brother MFC-J1205w review: Ink cost and yield
Brother's standard-yield ink cartridges deliver low costs per page for the MFC-J1205w. Text pages cost 3.5 cents per page, and color pages cost 9.1 cents each.
These ongoing costs are significantly lower than the averages of 10 cents (text) and 21.2 cents (color), when using standard-yield cartridges. But this Brother even beats the lower costs per page for models using high-yield cartridges: 6.2 cents (text) and 15.7 cents (color).
By comparison, the HP 2755e has costs per page of 8 cents (text) and 25 cents (color) when using standard cartridges. But with high-yield cartridges, ink costs are still significantly higher than the Brother, at 10 cents (text) and 22.5 cents (color).
All four of the Brother's ink cartridges have an estimated yield of 750 pages. The black ink cartridge costs $25.99, while the color cartridges cost $15.49 each. No high-yield cartridges are offered.
The Brother Refresh program offers the convenience of automatic ordering of cartridges when ink is running low. This is not a subscription plan with a monthly fee.
For a detailed explanation of ink subscription plans, including the Brother Refresh program, see "HP Instant Ink vs. Canon vs. Epson: Are ink subscriptions worth it?"
Brother MFC-J1205w review: Setup and software
The included software is basic, but gets the job done. One drawback is that you will need to use the Brother iPrint&Scan software to make a borderless photo print. (In my testing, borderless printing was not available in the Windows 10 print driver).
As for scanning, photo enthusiasts may wish for an 8-by-10-inch scan area preset. Because there is none, you will need to rely on the auto crop feature. Thankfully, in most cases auto crop worked well. The main exception was a colorful magazine cover illustration, which causes auto crop to only capture a small portion of the image. Similarly, a scan of a magazine page cropped out more than half of the original page. However, many other magazine pages were accurately cropped automatically.
Also included is the Brother Creative Center software, which offers templates and printable items such as cards, invitations, calendars, party decorations, coloring graphics, and the like.
Setting up the MFC-J1205w is straightforward, and the starter ink cartridges slid easily into place. After loading paper, the printer automatically produces a print quality test sheet. This first print pulled three sheets of paper through the paper path. One of my later copies pulled two sheets through the unit, which may indicate paper feed issues.
Setting up from a PC, the on-screen prompts are easy to follow and the quick setup guide is handy, with large illustrations. This reference and the troubleshooting guide show LED indicator lights and button presses for checking print quality (mono or color).
To initiate a wireless connection, I used the QR code in the setup guide to download the Brother iOS app to my iPhone. The app, however, did not automatically identify the printer model. I had to select it from a list, confirm that a pair of lights on the control panel were blinking, and then app established a WiFi Direct connection.
The rest of the wireless setup was problematic, however. In the end, the printer was usable on my network from both my iPhone and my Windows 10 PC, but my first attempts were frustrating. For example, when I first attempted to add the printer to my wireless network by entering the network password in the Brother iOS app, it failed to finish the process.
Attempting the wireless network setup from my Windows 10 PC, I was unable to find a wireless connection setup in either the Brother iPrint & Scan software or in Brother Utilities (perhaps because I had previously set up a USB connection). So, attempting to add the printer in Windows Settings, I was prompted to enter the printer's WPS PIN—but I could not find this information in the setup guide. The Brother support website described a method of pressing the printer's Wi-Fi button three times as well as my router's WPS button—but this also failed to place the MFC-J1205w on my network.
After a short reprieve, both the iOS wireless and Windows 10 PC Wi-Fi connections resolved themselves and I didn't have to call the support center. How I would repeat this setup scenario is a mystery to me.
Brother MFC-J1205w review: Bottom line
This bargain Brother printer offers high image quality and a lot of speed. It's quick to print text, print graphics, and to make copies and scans. The bonus of low ink costs make the MFC-J1205w a solid candidate for everyday office tasks.
Photo enthusiasts, however, will be sorely disappointed by the sluggish photo printing, and the limited offer of borderless photo printing only in the included software. Because this basic model lacks a display screen on its control panel, it's best suited for users who plan to operate it from a PC or smartphone.